As America’s 77 million-strong baby boomers reach retirement age, one thing is absolutely clear — they are not going to quietly retreat into their golden years. The most active generation in America’s history wants homes that will support their active lifestyles, and homes that will accommodate the challenges boomers will face, from bad knees, to working from home, to taking on grandchildren.
That’s why building and remodeling homes for aging baby boomers represents one of the biggest trends in the home improvement industry today. It’s primarily in response to how baby boomers view themselves, many of whom don’t believe ‘old’ starts until a person turns 80, according to a Del Webb survey. While many boomers see themselves running, cycling, downhill skiing for many years to come, the reality is that aging creates physical challenges, ranging from arthritis to stiffness to balance issues that could result in debilitating falls. Expecting so much of themselves, many are starting to rethink the design of their homes to accommodate their changing lifestyles.
To meet the needs of this active generation, home builders and remodelers are developing new design and building techniques that incorporate universal design principles. Universal design means creating products and designing spaces that allow the widest range of people, of varying physical abilities, to use one space, from babies to 80-year-olds. Because the typical American home is designed for an active American family whose adults are in their 20s and 30s, many do not meet the needs of boomers who want to age gracefully in their own homes.
‘Universal design is about balancing style with the functionality we need as we move from one stage of life to another,’ says John Gardner for APEX Siding System, a manufacturer of low maintenance, high durability siding and trim. ‘Universal design allows empty nesters to live in their homes longer, allowing them to pursue their goals and passions regardless of the physical abilities that aging may impose upon them.’
If you’re among America’s baby boomer generation, here are some tips offered by Gardner on how to design and remodel your home to meet your needs today and in the future:
Don’t wait until the last-minute – If you intend to live in your current home into your 60s, 70s and 80s, don’t wait until health challenges force you to make changes to your home. Create a master plan using universal design principles that can be implemented over time to spread out the costs of your remodeling investment.
Get an expert – Seek out builders and remodelers who have earned the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) age-in-place certification. These design/build firms are knowledgeable about universal design principles and in building and remodeling homes that meet the needs of aging boomers.
Plan for one-level living – As you remodel your home, create a plan so that everything you need is on one floor, easily accessible to your main entrance on the ground floor. This includes a bedroom, a bathroom with shower, washer and dryer, kitchen and dining area, and access to technology (TV, computer and phone).
Low-maintenance – High maintenance projects, like painting a home, cleaning the exterior side of windows, or sealing cracks and seams in your siding are physically challenging and time-consuming. For example, if your home needs to have the siding replaced, instead of wood or fiber cement siding, which requires re-sealing and repainting every few years, consider pultruded fiberglass siding, a new type of siding that doesn’t need to be repainted or resealed when properly installed by a remodeling professional.
Zero-step entry – Whether you’re maneuvering a stroller through the front door, carrying a load of groceries, or navigating your mother’s wheelchair, invest in a new, wider front door system, featuring a low-maintenance fiberglass door frame, door and lever handle (not door knob) for easy entry.
Task lighting – Add more lighting for close-up tasks such as cooking, reading, hobbies (knitting, fly-tying) and working from home.
Remodel the bathroom – Create an accessible ground-level bathroom for guests of any age by installing a zero-entry threshold shower base, a handheld showerhead and shower rails. Don’t forget to give the shower a non-skid floor treatment and to add anti-scalding protection to the sink and shower.